Monday, November 2, 2015

Six Word Story Short Films

One of the classes that I'm teaching this year is a nine-week course for sophomores called Beyond Writing. The course is a required elective that every sophomore takes in the fall as an introduction to high school writing. We teach four weeks of narrative writing, followed by four weeks of research and synthesis writing, and we weave in academic vocabulary and ACT grammar skills throughout the course. I really enjoy teaching this course because I love to teach writing. My students, however, sometimes come into the course feeling like it's redundant. Some of them don't understand how this class is any different from their English 10 courses.

Because of this, I decided that I wanted to choose writing topics and mentor texts that would be highly engaging and relevant to students. I also wanted to incorporate forms of writing that used less words to share big ideas. This summer, I met fellow Apple Distinguished Educator, Don Goble, and learned about the six word story films that his students create. I knew immediately that this was the first narrative I wanted my students to write for me.

Now, I'm not a film teacher. I can use iMovie on the iPad and Mac fairly well, but I really had no prior knowledge about camera angles for shots. I just knew that I wanted my students to tell me a story about themselves in six words. I wanted my reluctant writers to see that brevity is just as challenging and verbosity. I wanted them to find powerful images in just one phrase or sentence. I started by sharing this handout with my students in Google Classroom. I like giving them access to information through hyperlinks rather than making hundreds of copies and wasting paper.
Students complete this project in three 90-minutes class periods. The lessons look like this: 
  • Day 1 - Introduce project; read and discuss New York Times article about the importance of brevity; brainstorm and workshop six word stories in small groups. 
  • Day 2 - Choose one six word story with which to continue working; review camera shots and angles; complete a storyboard graphic organizer, so you know what you need to film at home.
    • Day 2 Homework - Students must film their six shots for their six word stories and upload them to Google Drive. Since my iPads stay in my classroom, this is the simplest way for students to access their videos on our school devices. 
  • Day 3 - Provide a short tutorial on iMovie; students create their films and upload them to Google Classroom for grading and sharing with the class. 
My first set of students completed this project in August, and it went fairly well. It was the first week of school, and it was my first week teaching a new grade level. While I was happy with what my students were able to create, I felt that I could have done a better job of facilitating the process for them. My second quarter class just completed their projects, and I could not be more proud of their hard work and excitement for this project. What I love about these projects is that each one really shows that student's personality, so it's a great way to get to know your students at the start of the course. I also love that it challenges students to choose their words carefully. Not only do they have to be brief by narrowing their ideas to six words, but they also have to be sure that there are strong images in the words that they choose. This is just good writing, plain and simple. 

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